January 5, 2021. At first it was a calculation of infection scores. My son and his wife and four-month-old baby had found a loophole in the Tier 4 regulations and driven up to spend Christmas with us. As the year ended, it seemed prudent to delay the return to London.
In Shropshire, in common with other counties on the western fringe of England, the infection rate is still relatively low. In the last week of 2020 it stood at 150 per hundred thousand, half the national average. In Waltham Forest, my son’s borough in East London, the rate was six times higher at 913. Safer to stay here, with the clean winds blowing in from the Welsh hills.
Then two further developments. A neighbour rings. A couple in a house at the bottom of our lane are in hospital with Covid. Both are in the middle years of life, but are seriously unwell, one is receiving oxygen. On the other side of the lane, a woman whose land abuts our garden is also stricken, though still at home. That’s three cases in twenty nearby villagers, the equivalent of 15,000 per 100,000. So much for aggregate statistics.
Later in the day, Boris Johnson is back on our television. There is to be a complete lockdown in England and the vulnerable must once more shield themselves. No one should travel except for limited and necessary purposes. No end date is given. My granddaughter and her parents who came for a fortnight will be here until Spring.
Thus time divides. At one level, it crawls to a standstill. It has always been difficult to detect the diurnal pulse in January and February, and now there will be nothing to separate one day from the next, one week from another. In sympathy with the state’s prohibitions, even the weather is at a halt, the thermometer travelling between minus and plus two from a late dawn to an early dusk. In my post-employment life I have no deadlines to structure my labours; even zoom-world seems asleep. There is no timetable to manage or anticipate. My wife and I are in the fourth category of vaccination. To reach us by mid-February according to Johnson’s vague ‘given a fair wind’ strategy, 13.2 million procedures will have to be carried out at a rate of two million a week. History, it has to be said, offers no comfort.
At another level time is changing almost minute by minute. When she finally goes home, our granddaughter will have spent around half her life with us. We visited and were visited by our other London-based grandchildren and took immense interest and pleasure in their company, but such encounters amounted to little more than snapshots of their growth. Not since our own children were born have we had a ringside view of the minute but fundamental developments that continually take place. And on this occasion we don’t have to deal with nappies or lose acres of unrecoverable sleep.
So for instance I watch her hands, waving about almost uncontrollably when she arrived, now increasingly precise instruments for manipulating objects. Toys, which on Christmas day were beyond her reach and comprehension, are now being incorporated into her daily activities.
Keep her safe, keep us all safe, and the next months are going to be nothing but a drama.